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dna exclusive: The future might even bring me to Gujarat to start an IT firm on the Amul model: Pranav Mistry

Sunday, 6 October 2013 - 7:00am IST Updated: Sunday, 6 October 2013 - 8:17pm IST | Agency: DNA

It’s tricky to get in touch with Pranav Mistry. Why, for he is the man of the hour, having unveiled the Samsung Galaxy Gear, in Berlin exactly a month ago, and thus, is travelling all the time.

But once you get through to him, which is pretty easy as this scribe found so, it’s apparent that his spirit still lives in his native Palanpur, though he is based out of the tech-hub of Cupertino in California, USA.

In an exclusive telephonic interview, where Tushar Deep Singh literally found himself ‘talk to the hand’, Pranav speaks about wearable computing, augmented reality and futuristic technology that put science fiction to shame – and yes, everything Gujarati, as well! (edited excerpts)

ABOUT THE SAMSUNG GALAXY GEAR

The Gear isn’t a smartwatch, as it’s perceived to be, but an all-new dimension to wearable computing; a new way of interaction. There are smartwatches, but Gear aims to herald transition from smartphones to the future that is wearable computing…

The vision is to bring about new modes of communication that are socially acceptable; something, that allows you to have dinner without having to look at the phone for notifications but staying clued in, nonetheless. In short, Gear is the first step towards instantly-accessible wearable computing.

ON WEARABLE COMPUTING & AUGMENTED REALITY

The technology (wearable computing) has been around for quite some time now. In fact, I had designed a (wearable-computing) glove in ’99 during my time in Gujarat.

The wristband on the Gear has a camera, which allows you to capture precious moments of life – like a baby’s first steps – instantaneously. In a smartphone, you retrieve the device from your pocket, open the camera app and then click a picture. The moment is lost. Also, I’m talking to you via the Gear right now, my hand placed next to my ear, while my phone is in the other room on a charging dock.
Augmented reality simply enhances the experience that is wearable computing. Google Glass is doing so, and so does the Gear. Focus the camera on the Gear at say, a road sign in Cantonese. An app on the device will translate the sign in a language of your choice…

We are barely scratching the surface (of wearable computing) but it won’t be too long before wearables shift smartphones from the centre of our computing needs. They won’t be obsolete but not essential.

One size for all is good, but one size doesn’t fit all. A customisation is important as per needs, and this is where wearables step in.

WEARABLES: SOCIALLY VIABLE?

A device can be only as intrusive (into personal space) as the user allows it to, while biological effects of wearables are only as much as that of a cellphone. In fact, inclusion of fitness apps into wearables can enhance an individual’s well-being. While some may indulge in them of the novelty factor but there will be others who find the apps absolutely necessary for training. The idea is to create viable, unobtrusive and seamless wearables.

COMPETITION SNAPPING AT THE HEELS

We (Think Tank Team at Samsung Research America) want to compete with ourselves. The unveiling at Berlin happened because the product was ready and the occasion (the IFA event) was right. (Pranav was responding to a question about piping Apple in the race towards wearable computing). It’s not a race, but an evolution. It’s all about doing the right thing and not the cool thing.

FROM MIT MEDIA LAB TO SAMSUNG ELECTRONICS

I have a goal in life – to leave something to the world. It needn’t be tangible but it’s the difference I can make to the world that counts.

Moving to Samsung from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) was a conscious decision, a step forward. At MIT, I was into academics, working on augmented reality, SixthSense and other projects. And even before MIT, I had been working for companies, including Amul and Microsoft, during my college days and early career in India…

I feel this set-up (at Samsung) has great potential; we just need the right direction. The Think Tank Team is a collection of some of the most talented brains from across the globe – working on concepts two decades in the future. It’s almost sci-fi like here at our headquarters. We, in fact, call ourselves Ninjas (laughs) – quietly going about our work, doing things. It’s the best of the best that has come together.

The future might even bring me to Gujarat to start an IT firm on the Amul model and assist the state and the state government in the tech-sphere.

BEING A ‘DESIGNEER’

The time I spent at School of Architecture at Cept University (He was AIR 1 that year but opted out to pursue computer engineering at Nirma University) held me in good stead during my Masters in Design at IIT Bombay, which eventually brought me to MIT. Exposure to fields like design to technology and even art to psychology gave me a quite nice/interesting viewpoint to the world. I love to see technology from a design perspective and research work as well. I’m a ‘Designeer’.

GOOD OL’ DAYS AT PALANPUR

If I were to have a rebirth, I would want to be in Palanpur again. When I have kids in the future, I want them to grow up in such an environment. I come from a family of architects and there wasn’t ever a time I felt I should move out of Palanpur for ‘better opportunities’.

I see my nephews in Ahmedabad studying in schools that are all about grades, but my school (Vividhlakshi Vidyamandir) in Palanpur, even at that time, stressed upon holistic development. In fact, I was in Palanpur in February (this year) for the 75th year celebrations of the school… (pauses)

My education gave me a comprehensive outlook of the world – a setting of constant learning, always on-the-move ideology, and a thought procedure to impact the world from outside.

STUDY, STUDY, STUDY!

It wasn’t all study, study, and study for me; actually, far from it (chuckles). After school, I used to dump my bag at home and head for the gymkhana to play cricket. I was good at table-tennis and had represented Gujarat in one of the national tourneys; I continued the passion (for table-tennis) in MIT where I represented my school for New England. I did theatre, I still sing and paint and draw. And all the while, my academics didn’t suffer.

GUJARAT OF TODAY, AND OF YORE

It’s impressive how robust infrastructure is in Gujarat today, but I feel much of the potential that Gujarat (or for that matter, India) possesses remains unharnessed. They (the government) are doing their bit but they should delve deeper, and tap more, into the rural pockets to bring out the talent.

I’m in touch with the chief minister (Narendra Modi) and the cabinet. I interacted with them at length, the last time I was there, about prospects of information technology in the state. I’m always open to invitation for any kind of help.

I’ve also met Prof Anil Gupta (of IIMA and National Innovation Foundation) and he is doing of good job of mobilising the grassroots and bringing forth rural innovations.

OF WORK, LIFE & EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

I do what I love, and I love what I do, and thus, work has never been cumbersome. My job has me continent-hopping but if you don’t go around, you don’t see around. One learns a lot from observation…

I believe being busy is the way to be. Before getting onto this conversation with you, I was at my desk taking apart a manual watch and studying its innards. It’s satisfying.


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